Gods of Rock 'n' Roll

"I'm the lord of the wastelands, a modern day Man of Steel." Those words, sung by KISS bassist Gene Simmons, couldn't have come at a more appropriate time. The audience had previously witnessed him breathing fire, spewing blood, and "flying" to the overhead scaffolding. The song The God of Thunder (my favourite KISS song of all time) was the highlight of the show for me, and it was performed with Simmons perched high atop the stage, looking down upon his subjects. The bassist was the perfect epitome of his Kabuki-style makeup symbolising the demon, constantly flicking his tongue in and out.

"I've gathered darkness to please me." The lights and pyrotechnics were spectacular and grandiose, easily out-surpassing the music itself. Guitars that emitted bursts of flame from their necks, guitars that served as pistols, guitars that flamed and flew to the ceiling, a huge flashing display of the band logo, and other assorted dazzling displays of light and fireworks thrilled the crowd.

"And I command you to kneel before the God of Thunder and Rock 'n' Roll." At the U.S. Air Arena in Landover, MD, the Gods in question were Simmons, Paul Stanley (rhythm guitar), Ace Frehley (lead guitar), and Peter Criss (drums), and they were fully dressed in their native regalia. The audience had come to pay them homage in various forms: for some, it was assuming the same image as their gods, and for others it was shelling out exorbitant prices for the best seats to wayside scalpers.

"The spell you're under will slowly rob you of your virgin soul." I'm sure there are many who wouldn't have minded this loss at all. I thought the experience was spectacular and well-worth the price, even given the lousy acoustics at the venue. Such is the nature of a KISS concert. The show itself deserves nothing but superlatives. While not on the level of a Pink Floyd concert, it is up there among the top audiovisual spectacles I've seen.

As I alluded to earlier, the acoustics weren't the best, but that probably helped because the performance itself wasn't as tight as it could've been. While my respect for KISS as entertainers has gone up a lot, my respect for them as musicians has slipped down a notch. The band was a bit sloppy, and for some reason, Space Ace Frehley didn't seem to be okay, which was a bit of a shame since his guitar work is one of the things I admire about the band. Each member took a turn at the mic, but it was Stanley who acted as the front-man (though I personally felt it was Simmons who was more engaging). He generally stated the spoken introductions to the songs in a sing-song manner which was a bit annoying. The vocal duties themselves were mostly shared between Simmons and Stanley. The spotlight features where each member of the band showcased their individual talents on their respective instruments left a bit to be desired (with perhaps the exception of Frehley). However, I still think the songwriting, particularly on the Destroyer album, is of extremely high calibre---I just found the live performance a bit weak compared to the studio recordings.

The songs they played included I Stole Your Love, Firehouse, Shock Me, Every Time I Look at You, King of the Night Time World, Do You Love Me, Love Gun, Cold Gin, Strutter, Black Diamond, and even a bit of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. For the encores, they came back with Detroit Rock City, Beth (sung solo by Peter Criss to a taped accompaniment), and climaxed with Rock 'n' Roll all Night.

The Deftones opened, and I can't think of a more orthogonal group to fill the opening spot for KISS. They were far tighter than KISS themselves, and put on an energetic performance (which was wholly under-appreciated by the crowd). While the music in general was okay, I thought the drumming was spectacular, and the syncopation added a lot to the songs. This was the first time I was exposed to their music and I thought they had a really heavy sound, merging noise and metal well.

This is one of the hottest tours of the summer, and if you're looking for excitement, the band is definitely worth checking out---it is a piece of pop culture history. But the profound lesson we learn here is that it is unfortunate, and indicative of a fickle audience, that the gods would not have been as respected without their costumes, without their mastery of light (or darkness, depending on how you look it it), and without their traditional chanting.

Music ram-blings || Ram Samudrala || me@ram.org || October 7, 1996